Libyan forces advance in push on Islamic State strongholds


CAIRO (AP) – Libyan forces loyal to the U.N.-brokered government advanced on Monday against two key Islamic State strongholds, with several officials saying the troops had taken a town from the extremists.

The forces entered Bin Jawad, 160 kilometers (99 miles) from the central city of Sirte, the main IS bastion in Libya. Salem Jedran, mayor of the nearby town of Ajdabiya, said troops with the so-called Petroleum Facilities Guards had advanced on Bin Jawad, which fell to IS in January.

The unit’s spokesman, Ali Alhassi, later said the troops had liberated the town after five were killed and 16 wounded. Saad Abu-Sharada, a representative from the area, confirmed the area was liberated Monday afternoon.

“I believe the IS presence was limited in that area, there were less than 10 vehicles and IS is not very good at confrontation as they lack the firepower,” he told The Associated Press.

A third official, Brig. Gen. Abdullah Nureldeen of the Libyan National Arm, which is loyal to authorities in the east, said his forces have been gathering intelligence in the area and confirmed the liberation.

Elsewhere, Libyan militiamen from the western city of Misrata – who are also loyal to the U.N. government – are pushing toward Sirte, the militant group’s main stronghold.

Since 2014, Libya has been divided between two parliaments and governments with each backed by a loose set of militias and tribes. The eastern government and parliament were formed after the last parliament elections, but the Tripoli parliament refused to hand over power to them.

Following a U.N. brokered a political deal between factions from each camp at the end of last year, the new unity government has tried to consolidate its grip in the capital, Tripoli, but has faced resistance from various political players and armed groups.

IS has managed to exploit the turmoil, seizing territory and triggering fears in Europe at the prospects of an expanding extremist-run bastion on its doorstep, just across the Mediterranean Sea.

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